by Michael Frank
The team behind the new Olio Model One—veterans of Apple, Google, Movado, Audi and Pixar—have acknowledged something that all smartwatch makers should too: the fact that, for 400 years, people have been choosing watches for style. And no matter how many tricks and tech features can be integrated into a watch, the factor will always be important.
Olio’s creators say most of us want beautiful timepieces that interact with the 21st century world, which the Olio Model One attempts to do, seamlessly. It’s the first smartwatch that interacts with the Internet of Things, knows your schedule and makes suggestions for handling your busy day, tracks your surroundings and responds to significant people in your life with almost zero input required by its owner.
CH spoke with Olio CEO Steve Jacobs in New York last week, where he explained that the trouble with fitness wearables is they perform a single function, but tend to be ugly. And the problem with smartwatches is that they’re often trying to be redundant versions of our phones and, worse, force us to use an app on a screen the size of a 50 cent piece—”A bit like trying to manipulate an Excel file on your wrist,” he says.
So Jacobs and his team decided that what Olio should do is focus on a single mission, which is to think about the smartwatch as not just a time-keeper, but a time-saver. This works because Olio doesn’t port over apps to your wrist—it captures the essential “message” or action notification the app carries, but not the app itself. This means, whether you’ve walked 10,000 steps today or you have a 2PM dentist appointment, you can see that information and act upon it swiftly. And, because Olio works with both iOS and Android phones, it also enables the use of Siri and Google Now. Regardless of your phone, you can swipe left on the face of the Model One to respond to an e-mail or text message via voice, or swipe right, to bring up a pre-set list of personalized responses you can create on a companion app.
Yet this just scratches the surface, because Olio comes with an inventive digital assistant. The watch heat-maps your date book each day in 12-hour cycles represented graphically on its home screen. And the assistant function is proactive—before a meeting it might ask whether to mute all your calls; you could also set it to mute calls and texts during your run, but customize an auto-response.
The digital assistant even understands what you’re doing at any moment, say, driving, and can suggest an auto reply that tells the correspondent you’re at the wheel and will get back to them ASAP. And because you may get a flurry of texts, Facebook requests and calls during your commute, the Model One will summarize all of those interactions as soon as you stop driving so you know exactly what you’ve missed.
Further, Olio doesn’t just track what you’re doing and your calendar; it tracks your environment. Enter your home network and the Model One will bring up appropriate menus, from your Sonos and the last podcast you played, to your garage door-opener, the thermostat, and (via your car’s app) auto-unlocking/locking of doors as you approach or depart the vehicle.
For fitness, Jacobs says they’re not trying to be Under Armour or Nike. “Nobody runs in a Rolex, either,” he says. But because you want steps and other metrics to fuse into apps you do use to track your activity, the Model One captures that information and lets you choose whatever fitness app you like. “It’s the freedom of capitalism, because you don’t choose your fashion accessory based on what fitness service you want to use,” Jacobs explains.
Aesthetically, the Olio (whose case is waterproof for swimming) is thoroughly a luxury product. It’s a fairly chunky piece of metal, milled from a solid block of stainless steel and hand polished. And even though it’s substantial, the watch was given ballasts at each corner, at the lug ends (where the strap attaches). These act like outriggers, so the watch won’t wander on your wrist. We only had a few minutes to wear one, but we didn’t find the unconscious need to balance the weight of the case against our wrist.
Jacobs explained that they’ve chosen to skip sapphire glass for the time being, even though that’s a luxury watch default, because at present it can’t be made as thin as his engineering team would like. Instead, they’ve gone with a crystal that’s 2.5 times as thick as the industry standard, and this is also used on the back of the watch. That’s to prevent any allergic reactions—and because it’s just plain exciting to be able to see the depth of the ion exchange charging coil beneath the crystal.
The Olio Model One comes in a choice of black or silver, and several leather bands are available in addition to the metal bracelets. The stainless watch will retail for $595 and the black is $745. Both are now available for pre-order, with shipping beginning early this summer.
Images courtesy of Olio